Finland pulls the plug on guaranteed basic income experiment

In oh-so progressive Scandinavia, Finland tried and quickly discovered that the latest hot idea among the techno-lords of Silicon Valley (and their lackeys in the California Democratic Party) is a dud. The failed idea for the way the rest of us should live is so-called Universal Basic Income.  

Universal Basic Income is a policy that’s been lauded by tech leaders from Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk as a proposed solution to job loss due to automation. Last Sunday, it officially became part of California’s Democratic Party platform, signaling that the idea is beginning to enter the political mainstream at the same time Silicon Valley leaders are putting their weight behind it.

Universal Basic Income is the idea that all citizens should receive a certain amount of money from the government, with no regulations on spending attached. In recent years, tech leaders have funded major projects in the space: Y Combinator Research piloted a program in Oakland that gave people $1,500 a month for a year, and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is funding a project in Stockton for working individuals. He just wrote a book advocating for the idea of giving every working person in the U.S. $500 a month.

While UBI is still seen as a long shot on a national scale, the recent move signals that it’s entering the political mainstream in California. Democratic politicians in the state seeking party endorsement are supposed to read and get behind the party platform, including basic income.

Business Insider Nordic reports that this is such a bad idea that when Finland actually tried it, the failure was obvious so quickly that the experiment was terminated.

Since the beginning of last year, 2000 Finns are getting money from the government each month – and they are not expected to do anything in return. The participants, aged 25–58, are all unemployed, and were selected at random by Kela, Finland’s social-security institution.

Instead of unemployment benefits, the participants now receive €560, or $690, per month, tax free. Should they find a job during the two-year trial, they still get to keep the money.

While the project is praised internationally for being at the cutting edge of social welfare, back in Finland, decision makers are quietly pulling the brakes, making a U-turn that is taking the project in a whole new direction.

”Right now, the government is making changes that are taking the system further away from a basic income,” Kela researcher Miska Simanainen told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.

The changes are narrowing the kind of people eligible:

The initial plan was for the experiment to be expanded in early 2018 to include workers as well as non-workers early in 2018, but that did not happen – to the disappointment of researchers at Kela. Without workers in the project, researchers are unable to study whether basic income would allow people to make new career moves, or enter training or education.

Hmm, where have we heard this fantasy before?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that Obamacare facilitates the type of “liberation” that the “Founders had in mind” because it allows you to quit your job and become a “photographer,”  a “writer,” a “musician”--or “whatever.”

“As you hear from these stories, this is a liberation,” Pelosi said at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday.

But of course, the hope (or fear) animating the techno-feudalists of Silicon Valley is different. Rick Moran stated it explicitly to me this morning:

The idea of a basic income is gaining steam because in 10 years, we may be looking at 15% unemployment due to automation and AI

That’s another fantasy that I’ve heard before – in the 1950s and into the 60s, “automation” was going to throw millions of factory workers onto the unemployment lines, a horror that never quite developed because a private economy is far more dynamic than the straight line projections of futurists can grasp. Instead of mass unemployment, we developed a “service economy.” It wasn’t automation but outsourcing that shuttered factories.

Right now, millions of truck drivers’ jobs supposedly are at risk because driverless big rigs are right around the corner. Maybe so, but right now there are few wrinkles to be worked out before 16 tons of truck comes barreling toward you on the highways with only a computer in charge.  And when the change does come, there will be other jobs opening up.

The vision of a mass of people kept alive at a “basic” level (inevitably to be described as “impoverished” and unacceptable for a decent human being) is an inverted form of feudalism. The serfs are kept alive at a basic level, not through toil in the fields, but through their utility to serve as a voting bloc to legitimize rule by the overlords. Their dependents, who can’t or who refuse to do useful work for others, will vote for their stooges to keep the checks coming. Hey, it beats work! Meanwhile, the productive classes – especially the petty entrepreneurs (aka, bourgeoisie) – are tolerated as a politically powerless faction to be taxed to pay for the subsidies to the idle.

What masquerades as generosity and compassion in fact is a mask for rule by an insurgent class that controls the high technology means of production, to use Marx’s terminology.

They are going to have to try Oakland and Stockton, because Finland now refuses to be their test case. Idleness is not a path to happiness, whether it is welfare recipients or the idle children of inherited wealth. We are homo faber - our human nature is to act upon our environemnt to improve out lives, and has been since the dawn of history. When we don't act that way, trouble ensues.